Why a ‘like’ isn’t always a yes to engage

April 9, 2013

Here in Australia, we’re increasingly hearing more and more about getting the ‘likes’ up. A focus on Facebook as a measure of success seems key to many brands' desires; it is the holy grail of ‘being loved’. However when we look across the (scant) data that is out there, there is a story that isn’t always being told. A story that feels intuitive to most of us, but that somehow doesn’t permeate our boardrooms and strategy discussions.

The assumption in these rooms and discussions is often that a like means yes. It is a direct invitation to engage with consumers. To some, it undeniably is. It is a little mark that says ‘yes I like your products, tell me more, make me feel loved back’.

However it is not the full story.

The Yellow Pages Sensis Study shows us 22% of those surveyed do not want ANY of expected engagements with the brand. Perhaps they are seeking content, entertainment, fun? Or (as we believe) could it be that these people in fact want the brand as a badge for themselves, without a desire to really engage?

Our identities are increasingly shaped by consumption, not in the 1980’s ‘I drive a Lexus so I’m successful’ type way. It is about experiences, style and the ‘uniqueness’ provided by brands at a non-transactional level. Brands represent an ability to curate, select and choose. Consumption, moreover, is no longer about products but about beliefs, experiences and values.

Brands in their very essence are about ideology. They are ‘pieces of meaning’ that signify a way of living, doing or being. People pick and choose between, and by doing so, subscribe to a set of values, to show the world something about themselves. Where we used to think of brands as designating ‘value worlds’ we subscribed to, we now see them as tools used in identity construction, people use them to build from the ground up.

As such, a ‘like’ becomes an expression of an individual’s desire and ability to curate and choose, and by curating and choosing a delineation of their ‘brand savviness’. Part of the reason for expressing a like for these brands is an outward statement; I subscribe to their ideals, their values, or just plain like their stuff.

Does that mean I’ll buy it? Not necessarily.

Does that mean I want targeted ads and their posts in my stream? Unlikely.

At present people still believe Facebook is about them, their friends and their connections. ‘Brand chat’ is increasingly perceived as static interrupting the program. It will be fine line to convert ‘likes’ into a deep enough connection to tolerate disruption of the service.

Implications for brands

So where does that leave us, as brand marketers? We need to stop the obsession with ‘likes’ and think about what ‘type of likes’ we really want. Do we want a genuine engagement, or do we aspire to be a brand that represents values people ascribe to. Can we do both, or should we make a choice?